As Rick's Place, Copa Casino users local connection

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Published: April 19,2004

GULFPORT – When casino patrons are urged to come play at Rick`s Place – the Copa Casino – it really is Rick`s place and not the property of some far-off gaming corporation. There`s a real person, Rick Carter, who along with Terry Green owns the Coast`s only locally-owned casino.

Both Carter and Green grew up on the Gulf Coast and have been involved in the development and growth of the gaming industry here.

Carter, the managing owner, said, “Terry and I are thankful that we have been able to contribute to the economic vitality of the community through gaming.”

The Copa Casino opened in September 1993 on an old cruise ship docked at the State Port in Gulfport. In September 2002, one of the Coast`s first casinos became one of the newest when the Copa moved into a much bigger facility, a barge that tripled the Copa`s gaming space to make it also one of the largest casinos. They have 1,200 slot machines, 20 table games and one of only four live poker rooms in the market.

Recently the Copa initiated a new image and marketing campaign by capitalizing on the local ownership. A consistent message and yellow color scheme are used in all marketing applications. The sub head, Rick`s Place, is used under the Copa name in all advertising and promotions with tag lines such as “I make everyone feel like a local” and “because I’m a local too” attributed to Rick.

Marketing manager Erik Johnson said, “Having Rick Carter communicate this message attaches a human face. It personifies this message and is direct and effective. Players are recognized and treated like valued friends and are offered a home-away-from-home experience.”

Market research with customers gave Copa management the themes that were developed in the Rick`s Place positioning.

“They told us that they appreciate the close ties to the community, the friendliness of the team members, the relaxed fun atmosphere and the cleanliness of the facility,” Carter said. “We feel these themes are reinforced by the fact that Copa patrons get the best gaming experience on the Coast by enjoying loose slots, the best table rules, generous direct mail offers and promotions and through the recently added merchant program.”

Through the merchant discount program, players club members can use their club cards for special discounts at over 200 Gulf Coast businesses, Carter said. Players club members are automatically enrolled in the program and can see a complete list of merchants and discounts at the players club desk in the casino.

“Customers simply present their Copa card and say ‘Rick sent me!'” he said. “In addition to providing players with benefits, the program stimulates business for the local business community. We’ve received numerous testimonials from both participating merchants and cardholders attesting to the value of the program.”

Examples of the discounts available in April include 10% off all cleaning and alteration service at Handsboro Cleaners, 10% off a regular purchase at La Bronze Tanning Salon, 15% off embroidery and screening at Mr. Monogram and 5% to 10% off selected items at Sports Unlimited.

Carter said any Copa customer can receive a player`s card free and new club members receive $10 when they play $10 on the day they join.

He says the new marketing strategies are proving to be extremely effective and have provided consistent communication with players. The backbone of the Rick`s Place campaign, however, he feels is the 750 employees who daily welcome guests as if they were welcoming them into their own homes.

Promotions manager Buddy Palazzo said the casino`s down home campaign has received a lot of positive feedback and been fruitful for them. Snowbirds spending the winter in the area really like being treated like locals, he said.

“We want to get someone in and make them a friend,” he said. “We say there`s a corporate mentality and a Copa mentality. People seem to really accept that.”

Palazzo said the Copa recently inserted $5 coupons in cable television billing that will reach some 90,000 households on the Gulf Coast. In addition to the Coast, he said the casino targets Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, the Florida panhandle and Georgia.

Current promotions using the new theme include triple players club points earned on Mondays, Sizzling Seniors Club specials on Wednesdays and random Hot Seat drawings for slot players two Saturdays each month. Additionally, a big ticket-less drawing is being planned which Palazzo thinks will go over well with players who will no longer have to fill out ticket stubs.

“It will all be done electronically,” he said. “I think that kind of drawing will take over cash and prize drawings in casinos.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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